By PEDRO MENDEZ
CONNECTING FAITH AND LIFE
One of the most astonishing narratives in the Bible is Jesus’s invitation to his first disciples in the Gospel of Mark: “Jesus said to them (Simon and Andrew), ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Then they abandoned their nets and followed him” (Mark 1: 17-18). In the Gospel of Mark, Simon and Andrew had not heard anything about Jesus – who just shows up, invites them to follow him, makes a promise and, they … follow him? Really?!
Would you leave everything and follow someone you had not heard about before? If God allows me to see Simon (Peter) and Andrew one day, I will ask them: “What was your first experience of Jesus that compelled you to leave everything and follow him? At the end, you (Simon - Peter) might have told Mark the story!”
It seems to me that Mark purposefully did not include Simon’s and Andrew’s first experience of Jesus – if Simon (Peter) ever shared it with him. Why? Because the purpose of the Gospels is to lead us to Jesus himself and his Paschal Mystery instead of drawing us primarily to his followers’ experiences. The experiences of Jesus’ followers might move us to look for Jesus himself, but not to get stuck on the followers and their experiences. The unknown experience of Simon and Andrew is so powerful that they left everything and followed Jesus, and it is so inspiring that it has led millions of people to a personal relationship with Jesus, including me.
This personal encounter with Jesus himself is so needed in our days. Things have not been easy for us recently. We might have experienced death, grief, sorrow and uncertainty due to COVID-19; social unrest; the unprecedented presidential election; and the deadly U.S. Capitol riots. Christians around the world, Catholics and Non-Catholics continue to be persecuted for bearing witness to Jesus. We Catholics continue to suffer from the scandals caused by ordained and lay ministers. Besides the above, we might also be having personal struggles due to physical, mental, spiritual and emotional challenges.
There is a cry that comes from the deepest self: “From whence shall come my help?” (Psalm 121:1). Where does that “hope (that) does not disappoint” (Rom 5:5) and that peace “that surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7) come from?
Our help, peace and hope come only from God himself! It doesn’t come from a relationship with an idea of God or the simple pursuit of others’ experiences of him, but it comes from a relationship with the real person of God.
In today’s world, is it easy to respond to God’s invitation? No. The distractions of daily life, combined with personal struggles, make this encounter with God daily work. I am a husband, a father of four boys, a parishioner and a hospital chaplain. Like you, I have a variety of experiences daily – from the joy of praying early in the morning and seeing my wife and kids to the devastating reality of grief, death and personal struggles. In the midst of my experience is tension – joys and sufferings.
But I have the best gifts ever: God’s unconditional presence and his daily invitation to have a relationship with him. I try to respond to God’s invitation by allowing him to talk to me through Sacred Scripture, to transform me through the Sacraments and through professional counseling and spiritual direction, and to use all the resources available to lead me to Him. Even in the challenges, I know, without a doubt, a joy, hope and peace that “surpasses all understanding.” That “something” comes only from God, specifically Jesus Himself.
Are we suffering, afraid, anxious, feeling despair or grieving? We might be – and rightly so, especially if we have lost a loved one. Let us come to God himself today and allow him to pervade us with peace and hope. Maybe then we might experience the unknown experience of Simon and Andrew, don’t you think?
Pedro Méndez is a husband, a father of four boys, a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist in Daylight, and a Board Certified Chaplain.